City quietly rolled out police cameras in Kzoo

While they help police catch criminals, some people are raising privacy concerns.

Over the summer, 35 cameras popped up on utility poles and at street corners around Kalamazoo. Unlike cameras installed over traffic lights, these cameras are actively recording traffic and scanning license plates in order to assist the police.

Kalamazoo Public Safety Deputy Chief David Boysen told MLive they’re meant to help catch criminals.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

A weekday morning email roundup of Kalamazoo stories and events.

“We got them in response to the increase of gun violence in our community,” he said. “It allows us to obtain information and investigative leads we normally would not have.”

He said the cameras have already helped to track down suspects in three murders over the past few months.

But they also raise questions about unethical surveillance practices and personal privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union has previously sounded the alarm about such automatic license plate readers.

“In our society, it is a core principle that the government does not invade people’s privacy and collect information about citizens’ innocent activities just in case they do something wrong,” reads a report published in 2013 titled “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements.”

The cameras save recordings to cloud servers where they are stored for 30 days before being deleted. They only scan license plates and supposedly don’t have the capacity for facial recognition. But police also have the ability to track any vehicle caught on these cameras without a warrant or oversight.

The ACLU has said that’s a problem.

“Clear regulations must be put in place to keep the government from tracking our movements on a massive scale,” they wrote.

[MLive, WWMT]

Support local. Donate today to Kalamazoo's only locally owned and independent daily news organization.